José Andrés’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which provides food in areas of crisis, is working with a new donation-funded effort, Frontline Foods, to provide restaurant-prepared meals to hospital workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Though Frontline was only formed in mid-March, there are already 17 chapters around the country, which includes one in Austin.
Frontline partners with local hospitals already working with COVID-19 patients and experiencing high stress and demand in their ICUs. In Austin, Frontline has tapped local restaurants like Sala and Betty, Chi’lantro, Home Slice Pizza, and Taco Flats to package meals for the ICU staff at St. David’s Medical Center, St. David’s South, and Ascension Seton Medical Center.
Online donations are made via Frontline’s website but routed through parent organization World Central Kitchen. These donations are then used to pay restaurants who will make individually packaged meals for health care workers. (Neither World Central Kitchen nor Frontline take any portion of the donations.) Frontline Austin has donated 200 individually packaged meals in the city since its founding last month.
Frontline’s model helps provides business for the struggling restaurant industry, as dining rooms throughout the country have been forced to close due to the pandemic, while also helping healthcare workers on the “front lines” of the COVID-19 crisis. Currently, restaurant sales in Austin are down 73 percent, according to online ordering app Toast.
The Austin efforts sprung from a now-defunct GoFundMe, which originally collected money to purchase bulk restaurant gift cards for hospital workers. That GoFundMe campaign was created by one of Frontline Austin’s leads, Hope Costanzo; after hearing about Frontline, she decided to start the Austin chapter instead and pivoted to delivering meals, as this was process proved more streamlined for hospital workers.
Costanzo and Austin Frontline co-lead Glenn Fiedler report that restaurants are “thrilled” to be involved, with many able to hire back furloughed workers to prepare the meals. Costanzo also shared that one recipient said this was the most appreciated she had felt in 15 years of working at the hospital.
Due to well-intentioned but overwhelming support from the community, some hospitals have put restrictions on food deliveries — for example, they will no longer accept an individual showing up with unannounced food donations due to risk of exposure. Frontline, on the other hand, had a protocol to follow for safe, pre-coordinated deliveries.
Frontline has also been sharing ideas and resources with other similar efforts such as ATX Hospital Meals, where people pledge donation amounts to be used to purchase food for hospital deliveries. Costanzo and Fiedler acknowledge that as conditions shift during the pandemic, Frontline may need to adapt the model.
Though Fiedler says it’s too early to tell if the program will continue after the pandemic, Costanzo believes there are plans to formalize it further. Fiedler explained: “Delivering a good local meal is a great way to support those on the front lines — whether they are health care workers, firefighters, police, or any other number of people that help protect our communities.”